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Retrospective look at the Grand Shield 2002:

Grand Shield
Qualifying Contest for the 2002 British Open
Test Piece: Checkmate, Bliss arr Eric Ball

Cwmaman take the Shield back to Wales

When you are looking for mixed metaphors to describe a brass band concert, then you can’t go wrong with the story of the “Three Little Pigs”. You remember don’t you?

Given the number of bands at the Grand Shield on Saturday who built their musical houses on foundations of sticks and straw and forgot the basic “Little Piggy” building blocks of balance, good intonation and quality of tone, it came as no surprise that so many came a cropper when it required a bit of huff and puff. Trying to win a contest as important as the Grand Shield by relying on a musical structure that resembled a Barrett home isn’t a recipe for success at the best of times – for when it starts to leak, crack and finally subside when the winds up and blowing, you may as well been better off pitching your efforts to win by erecting the musical equivalent of a scouts tent.

Too many bands lost the chance of competing at the British Open this year because they didn’t have the ability (or good sense) to keep things safe and secure and hatches bolted down when they had the obvious opportunities to do so. Band after band came on stage and within a few moments their foundations were rocking as they became a successful version of the “Big Bad Wolf”. Blow they did, and blow away their chances they did as well, as splits, cracks, harsh strident sounds and tuning problems undermined their performances. It was self destruction.

The bands that did well at the Grand Shield were the ones that used their heads and built traditional musical structures – well controlled dynamics, rounded sounds and a lack of splits and cracks. It’s a recipe that has served the best bands well for over a hundred years, but on Saturday good bands, and in some cases very good bands, threw away the architects blueprints and went for the DIY self build version.

In the circumstances then it came as no surprise that the winners and the runners up gave two very well controlled and musical performances of “Checkmate” that had the traditional qualities earmarked through them.

Both John Hudson at Cwmaman and Lynda Nicholson at Besses O’ th’ Barn set their stalls out with an emphasis on control and musicality that were justly rewarded with a trip to the Symphony Hall in September. Some people expressed surprise at the result after it was announced, but as that came from many that spent their time in the Spanish Bar and didn’t make the effort to go into the hall and actually listen, they didn’t have much of an argument. There were the usual conspiracy theories doing the rounds half an hour after Robert and Nicholas Childs gave their very insightful and very accurate reflections of the days performances, but those theories were as empty as the pint glasses still stuck in their hands. These were worthy qualifiers.

The MD’s of Black Dyke and BAYV Cory have justified reputations as two of the best prepared and thorough conductors of bands in the banding world, and you can bet your bottom dollar that they knew the score of “Checkmate” backwards. So when they talked about the way in which some bands sacrificed their chances by overblowing, too loud percussion and indiscriminate camouflaging of parts (especially trombone) by other instruments you knew that the bands that tried to win by using those means were going to be found out big time. The use of these two “new” judges to run the ruler over the bands at the contest was an unqualified success and should be repeated. Plenty of people complain that there aren’t enough new adjudicators being used at top level contesting, so congratulations to the organisers for taking the chance of using two of our best conductors in such a way. Lets hope it continues elsewhere.

They were certainly impressed by the way in which the winners controlled their performance throughout, and it was noticeable that John Hudson keep the dynamic levels in check very nearly to the bitter end, when he finally let the band have its way and blow for all they were worth. As this wasn’t until those dramatic last descending chords as the frail old King gets stabbed to death it gave the performance a tremendous climax and finality. Special mention must also be given to the bands excellent soprano player, Paul Eddy and the boys on the bass end who gave the performance a rock solid rounded foundation. John Hudson provided the band with a very intelligent reading – one that many would have done well to have listened to, and it was just reward for a conductor who always gives full value whenever he appears on the contesting stage.

Besses also gave a performance of high class and musical intelligence that had control and drama in equal doses. They had the odd blip and blob for sure, but the way in which there was real differences in the dynamics and in the way in which the music had a flow even when going full bore was a pleasure. Besses have for too long been a band not playing to it’s potential – on this evidence Lynda Nicholson has certainly stopped that and they will be confident challengers come the Open.

Flowers and Philip Harper also gave a performance of merit in coming third, and once again showed that they have quality players right through the band, with the soprano playing of Chris Howley a highlight. He deservedly won the soloist prize and the band could well pleased with their efforts (although they will be a little disappointed that it wasn’t enough to sneak into the frame).

Aveley and Newham also performed well in coming fourth. With quality sop and trombone playing throughout, they possibly (and unlike many other bands on the day) lost their chance of a trip to Birmingham in the quiet middle movement where there were too many individual errors that lost them vital points.

Many had the Ransome Band under Peter Parkes as the band to beat after they gave a very exciting performance (complete with choreographed trombones); but perhaps their interpretation took a few too many liberties and they had to be content with fifth place.

Sixth place went to a rejuvenated Fishburn who put their troubles of the Regional championships behind them to give a very hard working performance.

Below these and it was a question of wind assisted damage limitation as too many blew away their chances - especially in the first movement when they “went for it” and it didn’t come off – in some cases with disastrous results.

Sellers International will be disappointed with 7th for sure, but they fell foul of problems of intonation and slips in the top cornets that were too costly, whilst Kibworth came 8th with a performance that had its moments. JAG Mount Charles once again failed to live up to their reputation with a performance that was possibly penalised for the extra strength of the percussion (and added parts) and ntl Skelmanthorpe also gave a bit of a curates egg of a show. BT were much the same in coming 11th and Seindorf Beaumaris found that the middle movement was their Achilles heel in coming 12th.

The bottom six however could have no cause for complaint – even though more than a few eyebrows were raised with Wingates coming 18th and last. Theirs was a performance that started in terrible fashion (did everyone come in on the first note?), and ended with a last chord that for some reason was played in fp fashion. This was a very good band not having the very best of days.

The same could also be said of Ashton under Lyne, Peter Hawke Lindley, Newtongrange and Bodmin who filled the other relegation places. On another day they would have had less mistakes, but all of them over blew to varying extents that just scupperred their chances of coming higher. The Senior Cup will be filled by six good quality bands next year though.

So the Grand Shield went back to Wales for only the third time since 1974 as Cwmaman equalled the achievement of Cory and Tredegar in winning the contest. The Saturday night was certainly a night of great celebration in their hotel and the rumours are that this week will see the band locked in their bandroom (not for practice, but because it’s next to the bar of the Workingmen’s Hall in which they rehearse). They deserve all the drinks as they gave a performance of merit and intelligence on a day in which many left their brains at home. As two of the little pigs found out to their cost – you can’t build anything to last if all it takes is a bit of hot air to blow it all down.

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